Roy Race - set to sign Andy Townsend?
The international break is at an end. Thank God for that. What an interminable ten days it's been since proper football left us. Checking the official website gives no indication of injuries suffered as yet - though Diaby did play for France last night so there is every chance of him being out for a few weeks. Congratulations to Henri Lansbury who played the final half-hour for England U21 as they qualified for their European Championships next Summer. We can only hope that Jack Wilshere is not selected for that tournament, and gets the Summer off instead. However, with this being a Stuart Pearce production, you can be fairly certain that Jack will play every minute of every game, before being dropped for the Final having "taken his eye off the ball."
Elsewhere Nicklas Bendtner is declaring himself fit for the game on Saturday, despite having played no football whatsoever since the World Cup. I would be surprised, and disappointed, to see the big Dane taking his place in Saturday's squad. I'm a big fan of Bendtner (in the minority, I know) but I don't want to see him anywhere near the team until his fitness has been proven with a couple of run-outs in the Reserves. No doubt we will find out in the coming days whether Almunia has returned to fitness (if he was ever really injured) and Wenger might then have a decision to make. We will see.
And so to England. I must admit that I only watched the second-half. When I saw Wilshere was on the bench I realised the first-half would hold no interest for me, so I watched a particularly enthralling episode of New Tricks on my Sky+. When I switched on after 48 minutes and saw a nil-nil scoreline I felt it was only a matter of time before Jack came on. I will make it clear at this point that I am not upset that Wilshere did nothing but sit on the bench last night - a midweek without a game will do him good - but, honestly, how crap were England? In the time I watched the game Gareth Barry got booked for his third foul of the half, gave the ball away four times, and missed a good chance in the final minute (those were the only times he got involved in the action), and yet Jack did not replace him. If you talk to anyone that watches Man City they will tell you that Gareth Barry is their weak link in midfield - a terrible waste of money. So, while I am pleased Wilshere was given a rest, I wathced in disbelief as he wasn't given the chance to turn it round for England last night. Instead of that, Kevin Davies got a cap (and a booking for an elbow!) and the other substitute used (for his 46th cap!) was Shaun Wright-Phillips. When you see quality like that being introduced from the bench it is easy to understand why England are so woeful.
As I sat through the game I got more and more annoyed with Andy Townsend, commentating for ITV. We watched Ashley Young pretending to be Tom Daley in the penalty area, with a full somersault - Townsend had seen penalties given for less. When Rooney chased an opponent 50 yards just to kick him, he was "frustrated" with the refereeing decisions going against him earlier on. Both of those men are, of course, English. Whenever a Montenegro player made a foul he was being "cynical" and deliberately stopping England from playing (only a crime if it's not against Arsenal, where such tactics are to be applauded apparently). Anyone who was a fan of Roy of the Rovers will remember that the bad guys were always the "swarthy foreigners," and I got the distinct impression last night that Townsend must have been angling for a move to mighty Melchester Rovers, such was his opinion of England's opposition.
When England played their first friendly after the Summer Capello introduced a lot of younger, new players to the squad. Now that the "competitive" (Montenegro's substitute striker plays in the Spanish second division for Rayo Vallecano) stuff has got going he has returned to the tried and tested (and failed) performers. Of last night's team, Adam Johnson and Ashley Young were the only ones not selected for the World Cup on merit (Ferdinand and Lescott would both have been in the final squad but for injury - Ferdinand got injured in a pre World Cup training session). All the other players were part of the national embarrassment that the World Cup became. I bet the youngsters appear again in November when they play another meaningless game against France, which will probably mean Wilshere and Gibbs and Walcott getting injured again.
More tomorrow when I hope we'll have something in the form of early team news for Saturday.